EL BULLI: COOKING-IN-PROGRESS
Reviewed by Paula Farmer
Director: Gereon Wetzel
Starring: Ferran Adria
Language: Catalan with English subtitles
The closing of El Bulli restaurant marked the end of a culinary era as renowned chef Ferran Adria closes El Bulli, which many have deemed “the most influential restaurant in the world.” To mark the occasion, New York’s Film Forum theater is hosting the U.S. premiere of the documentary “El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” by filmmaker Gereon Wetzel.
Adria and his crew close the restaurant for six months a year to experiment with foods, textures and flavors in order to create the next season’s one of a kind 30 course menu. The film takes viewers into the inner workings of the test kitchen in Barcelona where avant-garde dishes such as a cocktail composed of hazelnut oil, salt and water, or a dessert of freeze-dried peppermint and ice shavings are created. Later cameras document the eventual relocation to Costa Brava home base as the staff set up El Bulli and prepare for the few diners lucky enough to secure a much coveted reservation over the next and last six months.
Although El Bulli has long been an iconic foodie and tourist destination-with Adria as the genius behind it and his creations exotic, beautiful and interesting-the film falls a bit flat in trying to capture all this. The problem lies not with the concept or subject but rather the execution, as Wetzel’s long, lingering shots and endless scenes become tedious and boring.
While it can be a good thing to not over- produce with talking heads and other traditional documentary techniques, it can be just as bad to not do enough. With little editing, no talking heads, no back story presentation, no music, no interviews, “Cooking in Progress” unfortunately falls into the latter category. Void of any entertainment value, the film appears more suited for an audience of culinary students or scientists than mainstream or art house audiences. Given that El Bulli will soon be no more, this film seems like a squandered opportunity to really present a unique documentary experience. That said, since it is probably the first and only feature-length documentary on the subject, it may be for many worth the lackluster presentation to get a glimpse of the man and his methods.
“El Bulli: Cooking in Progress” will have a two-week run at Film Forum from July 27 through August 9. Check your local art house theater for engagements in subsequent weeks.
(For what’s sure to be a more interesting and entertaining approach to the subject, catch the August 1st installment of “Anthony Bourdaine’s No Reservations” dedicated to Ferran Adria and the closing of El Bulli.)
BLACK POWER MIXTAPE
Reviewed by Paula Farmer
Writer/Director: Göran Olssen
Starring: Angela Davis, Stokely Carmicael, Bobby Seale, Danny Glover
Run Time: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Recently rediscovered audio and video footage from a Swedish news agency of interviews with characters from the Black Power movement has been put together and released as a captivating documentary titled “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.” The Swedish journalists who launched the project during that period were intrigued by the movement and were determined to discover “Black America” from a non-biased, non-white American perspective. Committed to the project for nearly a decade, they garnered the trust of their subjects and were given incredible access to the leaders of the movement. Revolutionaries such as Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver gave candid and multiple interviews about their cause and their motives, as well as their personal reflections.
Although nothing much became of the footage once the journalists returned to Sweden, thirty years later, the collection of the 16mm film, along with B-Roll of Black Panther activities and urban unrest were discovered in the basement of a Swedish television station. Director Göran Olsson combined the found images and interviews with thought provoking commentary by contemporary African-American thinkers and entertainers. Contributors such as Harry Belafonte and Erykah Badu lending their voices to the project, along with a redolent soundtrack provided by Questlove of the Roots and Om’Mas, add a freshness to a known topic.
To be sure, there may be many who have seen similar images over the years in other film and television projects, but the fact that this came from a non-American perspective and these Swedish journalist covered such a large period of time, makes this documentary undeniable unique, impressive and interesting and worth re-living. For those who did not live during that time or have not been exposed to much of this movement—what led to its formation, who was it made up of and what became of it—this is an excellent way to access the information.
Some of the most evocative scenes include the prison interviews with political activist, scholar and educator Angela Davis. Because of her then membership in the Communist Party, she was arrested and tried for suspected involvement in the Soledad brothers’ 1970 abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley in Marin County, California. She was later acquitted of all charges. Her candor, during the prison interviews is riveting. So too are the series of interviews with Stockley Carmichael. He was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and later a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party. The journalist managed to get several personal interviews with Carmichael, including in his home with his mother.
Maybe just as thought provoking, if not more so, are the B-roll images of black America and the understandable urban unrest of the time, as well as some of white America’s obliviousness. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching to watch the spontaneous interview obtained of a black teen girl who recounts her entrée into prostitution and her disdain for her impoverished state that keeps her in it.
This is an era and a movement worth remembering, and “Black Power Mixtape” is a worthy vehicle through which to take such a cinematic journey.
Reviewed by Paula Farmer
Director/Writer: Michael Epstein
Starring: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Elton John
When you hear there’s a new John Lennon documentary touring film festivals and soon to be broadcast on PBS (check your local PBS station you probably think, why? Isn’t there more than enough done on the man, the musician, and the tragedy? For some, maybe many, who have followed all things Lennon, you may see some redundancy and fail to see the relevance of LennonNYC. For others, such as myself, you may perceive a certain level of freshness and appreciate this film’s perspective. Documentary filmmaker Michael Epstein focuses his research and portrayal on Lennon’s (and Yoko Ono’s) New York years where he lived from 1971 until his senseless murder in 1980. When I say focus, I mean focus. Epstein stays true to his point of view- Lennon- and Lennon’s sense of place in New York (except for his brief banishment to L.A. within this period). This isn’t a Beatles story, this isn’t a New York story, it’s a Lennon in NYC story-examining why he came to the city, why he loved it, and what he accomplished here, both personally and professionally. Furthermore, and maybe more interestingly, the movie becomes a story of immigration as Lennon was continuously threatened with deportation due to his political allegiances, even as he kept fighting desperately to be granted the permanent residency he so richly deserved.
Key to any significant documentary is access, and Epstein obtains much in the forms of, first and foremost, Yoko Ono and music studio audio and video footage rarely, if ever seen and heard.
LennonNYC is part of the American Masters series on PBS.